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'There will always be disgruntled people'
Sheela Bhatt and Nikhil Lakshman
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February 19, 2007

Last month, in an exclusive interview to, National Security Advisor M K Narayanan spoke to Managing Editor Sheela Bhatt and Editor-in-Chief Nikhil Lakshman on wide-ranging issues including China and terrorism. In the aftermath of the bomb blasts on the Samjhauta Express on Sunday night, we publish Narayanan's views on terrorism, a subject he has dealt with for many decades.

Sitting in this office, what is your assessment of India's national security scenario? What do you think of the spread of terrorism in India's hinterland?

I think this is a phenomenon not peculiar to India. Terrorism has now come to become, I think, one of the world's greatest scourges. There is no part of the world which is not affected. Yes, to some extent we are bigger victims than many other parts of the world but I think there is a certain amount of understanding across the world that this is an international phenomenon.

The Indian experience is being used to a great extent now but it took the world a very, very long time, what we have been talking of for some time that you need to look at terrorism not in a selective manner but as a comprehensive global phenomenon. Yes, it's a problem.

My concern, if the terrorism persists, is the aftermath of terrorism.

Will it create a division of Indian society? I think that is the point. I think of all the nations affected by terrorism we have the most composite population. We have people of different shades, different levels of progress, different levels of development etc. I think what would be a localised phenomenon can then be transferred into a much bigger issue. I think that would be, as National Security Adviser working in the Prime Minister's Office, to me the biggest problem.

An individual act of terrorism is possible... to drive a car in a crowded place and blow it up or use a suicide bomber. The incident takes place when the case is not detected but there are 15 incidents that have been aborted.

Nevertheless, every time an incident of terrorism happens it is a problem. But it is really, what I will call as a lack of faith in people that follows when terror comes in. We have seen after the Mumbai blasts. Immediately the suspicion is cast on certain sections of certain communities. That creates the divide. A country like India cannot afford that. India's basic strength is unity in diversity that we have.

The most worrisome aspect is that after the government's statement that no Indian is a part of the global campaign of terror, that may no longer be true...

No Indian has gone out and participated in it. What is happening is that it is possible to infect people. Most of the people (involved in terrorism) have gone out of the country and coming back and inciting people.

No Indian has participated in Al Qaeda. No Indian has been mercenary in that sense of the term. Yes, sometimes they have been used as it happened in the Mumbai bomb blasts. There are some Indians who have participated in providing logistic support and helping out and all that.

But, the fallout (of terror incidents) is still worrying. Because it creates suspicion among neighbours, suspicion among communities, that could be a major blow to India's otherwise widely hailed and widely recognised society.

You don't see it as a group of people so disgruntled with the system that they will take to terror? For instance, some Mumbai police officers believe the 11/7 blasts in the city could be a turning point in the battle against terror. They believe that the blasts could not have occurred without the large scale participation of local people.

I don't think anybody in (the) Mumbai (police) has said 'large scale'. You can always find disgruntled elements in any community to participate... you can always rationalise it by some incidents that have taken place. Having dealt with it, I can always say that the basic point is to prevent (incidents of terror).

The basic issue we really need is to create a composite community. There will always be disgruntled people. Is it not true of the United Kingdom? Is it not true of many other parts of world? There will always be disgruntled people who are unhappy with the state of affairs.

What we need, at the level of security agency, is to ensure that the numbers (of terror incidents) are kept at the absolute minimum. I am sorry to say the media plays quite an unsavoury role when we alert the community to be vigilant. I must say that outside mega cities we get a lot of support from people. It reduces the chances of success of terrorists.

At the political level there is a need to keep a certain balance. If one side goes overboard you will find a reaction, a backlash on the other side. We need to maintain a balance while recognising that there always are disgruntled elements but ensure that the community leaders play a constructive role.

Then, there is a money trail (behind terrorist attacks). I think, 98 per cent of this is run on the basis of money. It is a kind of a new route for employment. We have to nab the money trail.

Much depends on the state of play in the country. There we are far, far, far better than most countries in the world. Even (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair seemed very concerned with the fact of homegrown British fundamentalism. They have no communication to the community. We have great inroads into the community.

Many Muslims come here and meet me. We talk to them. They are saying what needs to be done. There is communication. There is a kind of interaction going on. Nevertheless, we have some people who for some thousand rupees have used hand grenades.

In our interactions we find there is a kind of resentment against the entire system that might be difficult to address...

The system means what?

Like, the Sachar Committee on Muslims showed that there is a lack of employment opportunity.

That is all right. The Sachar Committee has highlighted the fact. But you also have several communities in this country who have the same kind of problem.

It is true that you have a system where the premium is on education. Some communities may be the beneficiaries of education but the rest of them may not have been. The question is, how do you reduce grievances. Resentment is a very strong word.

There can be an element of resentment. The question is, are you going to transform that into violence in a country of one billion people with a limited number of what you called attractive opportunities? You are always bound to have a sizeable number of people who always feel a sense of grievance.

Now you can have resentment against the system. What does the Sachar Committee say? But there are enough communities in India, outside even the Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes and Muslims who have the same problem. The question that we are really looking at is, how do you bring them all into the mainstream? How do you generate enough for all? How do you generate enough opportunities?

There will always be people against the system. You know, it is like you go to the North East you have the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and people say it should be abolished. The AFSPA is there for a special, particular purpose. If there is no violence or violence is at a minimal level, then you don't require the armed forces and you don't require the AFSPA. There is a balance that you have to maintain.

So when you talked of resentment, it has to be in a particular paradigm of thinking and action.

So that is quite a slow process when they (the affected) can get justice. On the other hand this terrorism is...

Terrorism is really like a bird on a tree! It depends on people, how they want to view a bird.

Organised crime is of the same kind. The rules are the same. You have people who are willing, seeing great opportunities and becoming rich quickly. So they turn to crime.

Organised crime and communal syndicates have now become a way of life. Similarly, terrorism is another kind of phenomenon. Here, of course, sometimes, ideology plays a role. Sometimes, other considerations play a role.

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